environmental republicans

Peter Dykstra: Jurassic politics

Are office-holding Republicans with strong environmental credentials an extinct species?

Let’s imagine, for just a second, we’re talking environmental politics, but in a Jurassic Park framework.


First, take some genetic material from an extinct species: office-holding Republicans with strong environmental credentials. Then rebuild the species over time, using the green DNA of Republicans past, like former Congressmen Sherwood Boehlert or Bob Inglis.

The Green Hornet

Boehlert was a 12-term Congressman from upstate New York. Dubbed “The Green Hornet,” he led the effort to blunt his fellow Republicans’ anti-regulatory efforts after the Contract With America captured Congress in the 1994 elections.

When the Clean Air Act was strengthened in 1990-91, he led the charge. The new Clean Air provisions were key to turning the tide on acid rain.

Boehlert also teamed with then-Senator Joe Biden in bi-partisan efforts to save Amtrak. He retired from Congress in 2007 but remained a strong pro-environment voice in retirement. Sherwood Boehlert died last September.

Bob Inglis

Inglis represented South Carolina's 4th congressional district from 1993 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2011. He was a latecomer to environmental issues, racking up a lackluster 26% lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

He later embraced climate change as an issue that his constituents in coastal “Low Country” South Carolina might respond to. No such luck. In his seventh campaign, Inglis faced a host of GOP challengers. The eventual winner was a local prosecutor, Trey Gowdy. Gowdy’s main distinction in a brief congressional career was his dogged pursuit of Hillary Clinton in the Benghazi affair.

The two GOP green giants

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon fathered the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and signed into law the Endangered Species Act and Clean Air Act. (Credit: manhhai/flickr)

Much is often made of the two Presidents – both Republicans – whose environmental accomplishments outpace all others from both parties. Teddy Roosevelt championed National Parks, the Forest Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

And that Ol’ Treehugger Richard Nixon fathered the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and signed into law the Endangered Species Act and Clean Air Act, among others.

But it took another Republican giant, Ronald Reagan, to put today’s conundrum into perspective. In his 1984 State of the Union: “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense.”

Well, okay, Reagan’s scandal-plagued EPA and Interior Dept. bosses might suggest that common sense had not yet arrived. But it would be a sad improvement if Mr. Reagan’s GOP heirs couldn’t even get back to false platitudes about the environment.

"Not some distant crisis" 

I asked Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV’s Senior VP of Government Affairs, about the prospects for Republicans waking up to smell the carbon.

“They’re not there. Hope springs eternal,” she responded. “This is not some distant crisis.”

Is there a Great Green Hope on the horizon?

Miami-area Congressman Carlos Curbelo briefly emerged as co-Chair of the Congressional Climate Caucus. Then he lost his re-election bid in 2018.

And, of course, it’s a stretch to assume the Democrats speak with one voice on climate. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin—perhaps you’ve heard of him—is still poised to defend his home-state coal industry.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Former U.S. Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) in 2017. (Credit: MIT)

pipeline protest
Protesters rallying in opposition to the PennEast pipeline. (Credit: Delaware Riverkeeper Network)

Protesting oil and gas line development harms mental health and creates distrust in government: Study

“The number of stress-activated health conditions people reported was quite staggering."

PITTSBURGH — Engaging in public participation during permitting for oil and gas pipelines often harms mental health and creates distrust in government, according to a new study.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
SCOTUS wetlands rollbacks
Credit: darkday/Flickr

States navigate wetland protections in wake of Supreme Court decision

Following a Supreme Court ruling that removed federal protections for many wetlands, states are now divided on how to respond, with some enhancing protections and others rolling them back.

Alex Brown reports for Stateline.

Keep reading...Show less
Citizen science
Credit: MyScienceWork/Flickr

Citizen science leads the charge in environmental protection

In a compelling movement, ordinary citizens are stepping up to tackle environmental challenges through citizen science, significantly contributing to research and data collection efforts worldwide.

Andrew Kersley reports for Wired.

Keep reading...Show less

A global breath of concern: most nations fail WHO air quality standards

Fewer than 10% of countries met the World Health Organization's air quality guidelines last year, spotlighting a pervasive health threat.

Delger Erdenesanaa reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less

Republicans focus on energy bills during a dedicated congressional week

House Republicans unveil a suite of energy-focused bills to assert American energy independence and push back against the Biden administration's environmental regulations.

Kelsey Brugger and Miranda Willson report for E&E News.

Keep reading...Show less
Merger puts California's idle well regulations to the test
Credit: 2427999 from Pixabay

Merger puts California's idle well regulations to the test

The acquisition of Aera Energy by California Resources Corporation poses a significant challenge for the state's new legislation aimed at managing orphan wells.

Joe Fassler reports for DeSmog.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
petrochemicals Texas

Toxic air lingers in Texas Latino community, revealing failures in state’s air monitoring system

Public data from a network of state air monitors around the Houston Ship Channel is hard to interpret and is often inadequate, leaving Latino-majority neighborhoods like Cloverleaf unaware of whether the air they breathe is safe.

petrochemicals Texas

El aire tóxico en una comunidad latina de Texas revela los fallos del sistema estatal de control de calidad del aire

Los datos públicos de una red de monitores estatales del aire alrededor del Canal de Navegación de Houston son difíciles de interpretar y a menudo son insuficientes, dejando a vecindarios de mayoría latina, como Cloverleaf, sin saber si el aire que respiran es seguro.

Global Plastic Treaty

This will be a big year in shaping the future of chemical recycling

The controversial practice looms large in state environmental laws, federal regulation and global plastic treaty negotiations.

plastic chemical recycling

What is chemical recycling?

While industry claims it could be part of a circular plastics economy, experts say that chemical recycling is extremely damaging to the environment and provides no real benefits.

algoma steel sault pollution

Cleaner steelmaking can’t come fast enough for this Northern Ontario city

Algoma Steel continues to exceed Canada’s standard air pollution limits for cancer-causing compounds and struggles with spills as it pushes toward a “green” makeover.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.